The height of safety

07 April 2017

Falls from height are the single biggest cause of workplace deaths and one of the main causes of major injury within the workplace. Stuart Alcock, site services manager at Total Access (UK), explains how workers who are cleaning at height can stay safe

Working at height remains one of the most common causes of fatalities and major injuries, accounting for nearly three in ten fatal injuries to workers (RIDDOR). Within the cleaning industry, between two and seven window cleaners are killed every year with an additional 20 to 30 suffering major injuries as a result of falls from ladders. Employers are bound by law under the Work at Height Regulations 2005 to eliminate or reduce the risks when working at height and ensure that any person working at height is trained and competent to do so. Employers are also required to ensure the correct type of equipment is utilised for working at height activities.  

Alongside safety, fit and comfort ought to be prioritised. Wearers want improved comfort without the loss of movement, particularly if wearing PPE for a long period of time. Conversely, PPE can only protect the worker if they are competent in its use, aware of why they must use it, and are properly trained. 

For those working at height, experienced instructors from Total Access can simulate realistic working environments at their site in Staffordshire. They can provide advice on the correct equipment to use, and how to use it, together with practical training which can be taken back to real life situations.  

Abseil cleaning

Total Access (UK) has experience in carrying out high level cleaning using industrial rope access - known to many as abseil cleaning. The Site Services team has worked with the planes at RAF Museum Cosford conducting a week long rope access clean and inspection of different aircrafts in the National Cold War Exhibition. The crew embarked on cleaning over 20 aircrafts, using a combination of filtered vacuum and dry microfibre cloths to remove all bulk and residual dust. Among the planes being cleaned was the English Electric Lightening; an iconic British supersonic fighter aircraft of the Cold War era and a Short Brothers Belfast – planes with a wing span up to 158ft. No small feat. 

Previously, Total Access secured a contract to clean London’s Big Ben, meaning the team had the opportunity to abseil down the landmark’s clock face to clean, inspect and repair. This process of maintenance takes place every 5-6 years and requires specialist equipment and care due to the fragile structure and glazing of the glass. 

Total Access also had a three-year cleaning and maintenance contract for Portsmouth's iconic Spinnaker Tower, which offers panoramic views of the South Coast, Portsmouth Harbour and the Isle of Wight. Total Access mounted the tower using Industrial Rope Access ensuring the team of technicians could work safely without invading the space or disrupting the enjoyment of the tourists and visitors. 

When completing huge structures such as Big Ben or Spinnaker Tower, cleaning technicians utilise specialist access equipment – ropes, harnesses, and karabiners. Weather conditions also need to be taken into account, particularly when working on outdoor constructions. Employers must be wary that equipment exposed to outdoor conditions may begin to deteriorate, resulting in a dangerous situation for the user. Access equipment should be inspected at suitable intervals appropriate to the environment and use.


Cleaning technicians are obligated to undergo a thorough Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) training programme to ensure competence towards health and safety. With Total Access, each operative also undergoes a Working at Height Medical, First Aid Training, and Roof Top Safety Training – with regular refresher courses. Although, as discussed, employers are required by law to ensure risks are eliminated or reduced for their staff when working at height, employees also have general legal duties to take reasonable care of themselves and others who may be affected by their actions. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), advises that this includes: reporting any safety hazard to their employer, and using equipment and safety devices supplied to them properly and in accordance with training. 

Total Access (UK) is owned by Arco